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Practice Routine

metronome

One of the things that was difficult for me was deciding exactly what to practice and how often.

The reality is that it’s very simple to practice if you can develop a routine geared towards the type of practicing you’re doing.  When you are attempting to learn a new piece you should use a different technique than when you are attempting to develop technique. Also, developing speed is a completely different animal all on its own.

So the first suggestion I have is to define exactly what it is you want out of this practice session.  Here are some examples of my routine.

NEW MATERIAL or NEW PIECE:

When I’m learning a new piece I make sure that I first dissect it into “sections” that I will focus on.  Once I have all the “sections” laid out, I’ll then start a quick pass of the song without any care over how many notes I miss. This is my attempt at discovering which parts my hands find more difficult than others and thus, will require more attention.  Once I have all the “sections” laid out and prioritized, I get to work.  I tend to start with the easier ones first just to feel a sense of accomplishment and then I immediately tackle the difficult ones.  I like to narrow down what it is that makes this “section” difficult and then I break it up into phrases as much as I can.  I even bust out the metronome if the phrase has a weird timing to it. Once I get that “section” down I like to practice the sections around it so I get a sense of the way the piece flows in an out of that difficult part. Eventually, that style of practice leads to the part before and after combining with the difficult “section” and it all ends up as one “section”.  I like to repeat that process for every difficult part until I get a group of no more than 3 sections.  Then I just repeat all those steps with the 3 remaining sections and it becomes one fluid part.  The routine laid out, looks something like this:

  • 10 min (warm up)
  • “section” separation
  • Sight read / Play-through for feel.
  • Prioritize difficulty
  • Bulk of practice time on choice of “section”
  • Cool down

My “Cool down” part of practicing is actually more mental than anything.  I use this time to play around with something that is not strenuous to me physically or taxing on my brain.  This part of my routine is to let me finish my practice time with something positive so that it leaves me motivated to practice again.

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IMPROVING SPEED:

This one is all metronome!  Although I would stress that anytime I begin a practice routine for speed, I spend the greatest amount of time on my warm up.  This warm up is to ensure that I will cause no injury to my hands especially since I believe that speed training is the most taxing on the ligaments.

Typically I start by setting a goal.  What am I trying to improve exactly?  Once that goal is defined, then I can begin attacking it. Let’s use 16th notes as an example. Perhaps the maximum speed I can play 16th notes at is 110BPM but my GOAL is to get those same 16th notes to 135BPM.  The first step is to start the metronome at 90BPM and play along.  I call this my “20bpm” rule.  Whatever my max speed is at the present time, I drop the metronome by 20bpm and gradually increase it so that I can feel comfortable with each stage of improvement.  Now the key detail is what happens after I reach the 110bpm or my “max level”.  The key is to only increase the metronome by 5bpm each time.  Focus on the counting aspect and really feel each down beat. Keep increasing the metronome by 5bpm until you find your “wall”. Trust me, you’ll know when you hit it. Once you find your wall then drop the bpm by, you guessed it, 20bpm!  By doing this you can easily and effectively increase your comfort zone and distance to your “wall”.  I honestly feel it is the most natural and comfortable way to build up your speed!  Here’s what that routine looks like when laid out:

  • 20min Warm up
  • Assess max level
  • Drop bpm and start sequence
  • Discover “wall”
  • Drop bpm and start sequence
  • Discover “wall” again
  • Drop bpm and start sequence
  • Discover “wall” a third time
  • Drop bpm and start sequence
  • Cool down

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Notice I added the “cool down” part in again? That’s mostly because I have always found speed training to be the most frustrating aspect for development. Once again, I leave it in there to help me end my practice session on a positive note.

A good point to make at this juncture would be what you should do if you hit your target bpm and it becomes comfortable or your natural bpm.  Many people have suggested that this is where you increase the metronome speed and your goal and start the process over again.  This is also where I disagree with those people. At this point is where I begin the same process but with a more complicated pattern of 16th notes.  If I can feel comfortable with complex patterns at my original dream bpm, then I am ready to tackle a faster tempo on the metronome.

DEVELOPING TECHNIQUE:

I would literally run out of characters in this blog if I dissected every aspect of a practice routine on this subject.  So let’s simplify it and generalize for the most part.  The best thing to do when developing technique, in my opinion, is to choose one technique at a time. After that, repetition is the mother of skill. A consistent repetition of the exercise at the perfect  tempo is what I believe to be the essential ingredient to your technique development.  What do I mean by perfect tempo? Its simple. Find the tempo that becomes slow enough to help you advance, but not so slow that you completely lose the natural phrasing of the technique. Try your best to keep the original sound or pitch in mind while you practice. Of course this may seem to general so I will abbreviate with some basic advice on some of the more popular techniques my students have asked about:

Alternate Picking:
Get a book called, “Terrifying Technique For Guitar” and look on page 13,  Example 26A.  Repeat until satisfied.

Sweep Picking:
Turn your amp to clean channel and begin by developing the “push/pull” method I talk about. But seriously, the clean channel.

Tapping:
Find a sense of rhythm in the tapping exercise. I always show the same A minor arpeggio on one string. Again, clean channel.

Palm Muting:
Look up the Pantera song “A New Level”. That’s how I learned.

If you would like any more clarification on any of these subjects just get in touch with me. I’m an easy guy to find!

Have fun and keep kicking ass!

-DJ

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